Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Memories of Public School Sexism

H at Not School has an excellent post entitled Pass Me the Vomit Bag. It reinforces something that I was thinking about just yesterday.
When my son was in public school, his school had to take part in a research project where someone came in and did weird exercises. It was supposed to fire up neurons and actually build more neurons in the brain.

My son hated it. You have to know my son to appreciate this, but he's very serious just like his mom and dad, and he just isn't the type kid that can bark like a seal, dance in public, or crawl on the floor like an alligator in front others. He just cannot do it. And that's okay.

And he didn't. And I got phone calls. "He's not participating. We can't make him do this. He needs this to build his brain."

So, this mom, who volunteered twice a week in his classroom already, went in three days in a row during this brain boost project. The kids did it on a daily basis the entire year. It wasn't bad, but I thought it was all rather silly. Had I been a child and forced to do it, I wouldn't have done it either -- parts of it.

So I watched the first morning, and my son sat with me because he refused to participate. We went home that night and discussed it. My final directive to him was do the parts that don't embarrass you. Barking like a seal was terribly embarrassing for him. Really, he's that sensitive. I would have been too. I told him he didn't have to do what made him uncomfortable.

I show up the next day and lo and behold, my son actually participates in parts of it -- the parts he feels comfortable with. I'm satisfied and proud he faced his fears. They aren't. He needs to do all of it to build his brain up.

So at the dinner table that night, I discuss this with my husband. He decides to take a half hour off work and go watch. I went a third time. My husband got down on the floor with the kids and did everything in the program.

My son wouldn't have done a thing if I had not encouraged him, given him permission to do only what's comfortable, to add things slowly.
My son had participated that day and the day before because I had made him feel safe and gave him freedom of choice.

I think it was wonderful that my husband went and was supportive. I know many men wouldn't do that. It did not make my son do the things he felt uncomfortable with, though. Dad was performing his parental obligation to help his son, nothing more.

Here's the kicker. The staff at that school put my husband up on the highest pedestal. He could do no wrong. He was basically worshipped! The rest of that school year I heard, "Your husband is so wonderful." "How's your husband?" "I can't believe how supportive and loving your husband is." "Tell your husband hello for us." "He's such a good father." Oh puke.

He shows up for a half hour one day and he is suddenly a male-parent god? Because he's male and took an interest in his son in front of an audience of public school staff, he's promoted to sainthood? Because he's actually performing his father role he is adored? I was shocked and appalled at the way he was treated versus how I was treated. I mean, I was there volunteering twice a week. I was the one that did homework after school, that took DS to the library weekly, that read all the classroom newsletters. My husband shows up for a half hour and is the man all men should aspire to be?

My husband is a good man and a good father. But by the mere fact he showed up for a half hour does not make him a saint. And he will be the first to admit that. My son learned a valuable lesson in sexism that year. We discussed it openly and honestly at home.

It was that same treat-them-like-they're-four-years-old mentality that H was discussing in her blog. We, the parents, are children and needed to be treated as if we are completely ignorant and unaware of our parental responsibilities. We need to be talked down to yet praised for our efforts. My husband was doing his job: he was being a father. Why do they not respect the mothers that are doing their jobs, too? When will they realize that there are a lot of people out there that take their parenting responsibilities very seriously.

As my son says way too often, sheesh.


Audrey said...

The thing about your husband and the way they reacted...

I see this all the time. I am always stunned by it because well... we do live in the 21st century now and I don't think that a father who does more than ejaculate should be some kind of anomaly.

In reality, I KNOW that there are many men out there who take time to do things for and with their children on a very regular basis and who do NOT expect to be nominated to sainthood for it!

My husband is one of them. I OFTEN get asked "who looks after your son while you work?" (Because a working mom is sooooooo radical??) I will say, "his father." And, then they look at me with mouths agape and eyes wide and say "OH! That's just so wonderful that he doesn't mind babysitting!" and inevitably - "MY husband wouldn't want to do THAT."

Um... excuse the f**k out of me?!? He is not babysitting. It's called being a P-A-R-E-N-T. And, luckily enough, my kid has TWO parents. Why is that so radical?

I get similar responses whenever dh takes T. anywhere. For example, they'll show up at the playground together and my dh likes to play, too. Any other mommy who saw them that day will GUSH about it to me for weeks. If I had shown up and played, they'd give me a snotty look and shake their heads.


Frankie said...

Oh, you nailed it. That is one of my biggest pet peeves.....fathers, BABYSITTING their children.